The Bible Appreneur: An Interview with Bobby Gruenewald, Founder of YouVersion

YouVersion.com and the Bible App recently passed 50 million downloads. This online resource and others like it are changing the face of Bible reading and study in several ways. Robert Crosby has a new article on this topic in the current issue of Christianity Today ("The Social Network Gospel: How Interconnectivity Helps Us Engage the Bible"). This is the first of several interviews with the creative minds who are leading the way in this area. Next up is Mark Brown, the founder of Facebook's Bible Page with over 8.4 million users.

Bobby, you have emerged in recent years onto the scene as someone who is harnessing technology for ministry. You were even chosen as one of the "100 Most Creative Leaders in Business" in 2011 by Fast Company Magazine. What is your background? Where did you come from?

Actually, I was a finance major at a Nazarene school. I started a couple of tech companies and then sold them in 1999.

How did you get connected with Craig Groeschel and LifeChurch.tv?

Shortly after I started attending LifeChurch.tv, I began volunteering almost full time. I loved being able to leverage what I knew about technology for the church. After some time, they wanted to hire me, but my initial answer was "no." I was concerned that taking a staff position at a church would change the way I felt about the church—turning something I loved into a job. I set aside my selfish perspective and realized God was directing my path to a role that would bring together my strengths, experience, and passion for Kingdom purposes.

How did YouVersion get started?

The idea came to me in an airport. Four years ago, while checking in my luggage it suddenly occurred to me that because of technology everyone has a virtual "printing press" in the home. This suddenly posed incredible possibilities in my mind for new forms of interaction with and around the Bible. Right there in the airport, I went online and reserved the URL, www.youversion.com. Soon thereafter we began to assemble what has come to be known as the "Digerati" Team, the technological brains behind the project.

Did it start as an app?

No, YouVersion was introduced as a website. When we started we averaged 20,000 visitors each month for the first three months. The numbers weren't too thrilling, so we decided to try one more tweak before abandoning it. Once we created a mobile version, it took off. We were fortunate that we got into the App Store on the day it opened. Also, we were able to obtain the app title - "The Bible." We selected a traditional looking icon.

What led to YouVersion becoming such a big project and success?

I believe 2006 was a pivotal year at LifeChurch.tv. Three key things occurred: One, we decided to give away our creative content, to make it available for free [note: this includes a wide array of sermon and promotional tools on http://open.lifechurch.tv/ with the church's name removed and accessible by anyone]. Two, we launched our online church on Easter Sunday, which connects people to Christ and each other online. Three, we began development on YouVersion.com.

What was your user count goal when you got started?

Before it was launched, our goal for the Bible App was 80,000 users by the end of the year. Instead, we had 83,000 in the first three days. Once we saw it take off, we decided to invest a lot of energy into it.

It seems that you are always updating and improving the look, feel and variety of versions and studies at YouVersion. How are these changes and decisions made?

One of the most helpful aspects of the app is the access we have had to analytical tools. These tell us how many people have installed the app, how many times people open it, how long they're spending in God's Word, and which features they are using. This continues to help us improve the tool.

How many versions of the Bible do you offer at YouVersion?

When we first launched we had six versions on the website. The app started with sixteen. Today the app is available on nine mobile device platforms, with nearly 300 versions of the Bible in more than 140 languages. Our team fully supports 14 languages with emails, confirmations, etc. Korean is our second largest language. We plan to be in 30 languages by next year.

How many employees and workers does it take to run YouVersion?

We currently have about 20 full-time staff working on YouVersion. Most are developers. The site utilizes hundreds of active volunteers who put in ten to twenty hours a week on average in tech support and translation. All of those volunteers and many of our staff work remotely from coffee shops and home offices around the world.